The Strictest Rating System in the World?
The website of the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK), Germany’s official games rating board, proudly proclaims that ‘Germany has the strictest statutory rules in the world for the classification and sale of computer games.’ Contrary to other European countries, the issues surrounding age ratings for video games in Germany have much deeper, political roots, made evident by the fact that it has its own rating board independent of the Pan European Game Information (PEGI). Age ratings for video games in Germany are based on the German Children and Young Persons Protection Act (JuSchG) and are agreed upon by an Advisory Council of 16 representatives from various official groups, associations, and boards within Germany.
When a game is banned in Germany, the ban will automatically expire after 10 years. Mortal Kombat (1994) and Mortyr (2001) were both initially banned upon release (the former for its violence and the latter for containing references to the NSDAP) but are now widely available on the German market, with an age restriction of 18.
In 2006, Lower Saxony and Bavaria (two of the 16 states of Germany) called for legislation that would make the playing of games featuring ‘cruel violence on humans or human-looking characters’ a punishable offense. The regions proposed that anyone caught doing so should face a fine or even jail time of up to one year; certainly a heavy hand compared to other surrounding countries. The legislation was not passed, but Germany’s laws surrounding the representation of violence in the media remain very strict.
While content featuring ’cruel violence’ against human beings is not systematically banned, any content that ‘expresses a glorification or rendering harmless of such acts’ and therefore ‘injures human dignity’ is prohibited. This means that, while most excessively violent games are considered generally suitable for European audiences, in Germany they are often banned.
Indeed, the age rating system is largely focused on violence. While the USK takes into consideration a number of different factors when rating games (including war, fear, sexual content, discrimination, language, and drugs) it is mainly the level of violence, along with the required level of psychological maturity and ability to cope with stressful situations, that will determine the age rating attributed to a game. The table below gives a more detailed insight as to what kind of violent content is acceptable for different age groups.
When rating games, the USK places a strong emphasis on the level of emotional and psychological pressure a game imposes upon a child or teenager, as well as the level of dexterity that it requires. This includes elements such as hand and eye coordination and pressure to act (time limits, etc.). The presence of either of these factors will generally make the game unsuitable for children under six years of age, though the rating could be higher depending on the level of dexterity required and the amount of pressure it inflicts.
The Elephant in the Room
While overly violent games are often banned in Germany, violence is not the only theme worthy of receiving such a ban. Germany’s laws surrounding the depiction of symbols relating to unconstitutional organizations render the representation of swastika flags and/or Adolf Hitler as racist propaganda. Wolfenstein (2009) was banned for containing references to the NSDAP, while The Darkness (2007) received a ban due to the symbols contained within its bonus comic, demonstrating just how severe this law is. This means that any games that contain any references to the NSDAP or, indeed, any other type of racist propaganda, will, without a shadow of a doubt, be refused a rating in Germany.
Looking to Localize Your Game?
There are a few things to look out for when localizing your game for the German market. While not problematic enough to receive a ban, there are a variety of other issues that may impact the age restrictions imposed on a video game. These include discrimination, war, the glorification of drugs, and sexual content inclusive of language and gesture. In particular, if any of these elements appear to be aimed at younger people (whether through language or context), then the game will come under closer scrutiny during the age rating process.
Anything containing references to the NSDAP will certainly receive a direct ban, but the other things to watch out for are violence and any stressful elements that may be part of the gameplay, such as time limits or high speed of play.
At MoGi Group, we have years of experience in localizing video games to various countries around the world. Our native German game localization team has comprehensive expertise in translating a variety of different genres and providing linguistically and culturally accurate translations. Meanwhile, our games age rating consultancy services will ensure that you reach the market that you want to target, not just in Germany, but for any country in the world. Contact us today for a free quote and find out how we can help you with your project.